Sundance 2016: Down a Crazy Rabbit Hole in 'Tickled' Documentary
by Alex Billington
January 29, 2016
This documentary is freakier than most horror movies. Tickled is not really a documentary about tickling, even though it is a documentary about tickling. Produced out of New Zealand, this entertaining and egaging documentary (co-directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve) follows Kiwi pop culture journalist David Farrier as he investigates a company that films professional tickling events. It all starts when he discovers a wacky video online of "competitive endurance tickling", and attempts to contact the people behind it. Suddenly, David is tumbling down a rabbit hole of legal threats and insane discoveries as he attempts to get to the bottom of this. It becomes a doc about the abuse of money, and how power hungry some people are.
One the main reasons Tickled is so entertaining is David Farrier, as he is pretty much the star of the film (leading every new discovery) and he has a very appealing on-screen vibe, like realizing he's your best friend five minutes after meeting him. Farrier gets in almost too deep with this doc, putting himself at risk because the people he reaches out to go after him with very serious legal (and personal) threats. For some of the film I was reminded of Catfish, another documentary from Sundance 2010 where every next scene in the story seems to be crazier than the one before it. Every new discovery is more insane than the last, and watching it unfold this way was both terrifying and exhilarating. I can't shake this documentary from my thoughts.
At this point I'm honestly nervous to even write about it. Tickled is less about tickling and much more about how wealthy people use their limitless power to control other people, hiding behind the internet (and the privacy that money provides them) and making it genuinely scary to even address them in any way thanks to threats from lawyers (they even hired a lawyer in New Zealand to go after them). But that's why this is such an incredible doc, as it's hard to forget it once you've seen it. There are so many "what the fuck?!" moments in it, and by the end none of the important questions are actually answered, making it even more mysterious and unbelievable. But that's the scariest part - I do believe it. These kind of people are definitely out there.
My biggest complaint is that I wanted to see more than it does show, I wanted to learn more about what was going on. It ends at a point in the story where I'm already so invested and caught up in what's going on, that I wondered if this was just Part 1. Will they be back at Sundance in 2017 with the sequel? It certainly seems like this story isn't over yet. The film never actually answers the question of why tickling is the cover for this person's actions, but maybe that's the whole point - they could never find out the answer to that question because the people behind the "tickling competitions" did not want that answer revealed. I'm still curious why that is. When you see the lengths they go to to stop this, it's seriously shocking and very eye-opening.
To top it off, apparently one of the subjects seen in the film that objected to being shown on film at all was at our screening furiously taking notes. The cops were called but he had already left by then. David, at the Q&A afterwards, talked about how shaken up he was after hearing he was there. I'm freaked out, too. In the back of my mind, there's a tinge of consideration that maybe this is just like Catfish - it's not all what it seems. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that David and Dylan stumbled upon something much bigger, much scarier, than just a story about being tickled for money. They ended making a story about how our crazy money-driven society works and the abuses of power so prevalent in every corner of this world.
Alex's Sundance 2016 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing